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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reflecting on Georgia's Smoky Rose Revolution

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White smoke drifted low across Rustaveli Avenue for the second time in a month. But this time it was not the tear gas fired by riot police as they broke up anti-government protests. These were clouds of dry ice, pumped out from smoke machines on a stage outside the Georgian parliament, as a band of aging, frizzy-haired British rockers called Smokie chugged through their back catalogue of 1970s hits.

It was St. George's Day and the fourth anniversary of the Rose Revolution. Despite all the shock and bitterness caused by the civil unrest of the past weeks, the show clearly had to go on. Despite the band's supposed popularity across the former Soviet Union, Smokie did seem a peculiar choice to soundtrack the celebration of President Mikheil Saakashvili's finest moment, while the profane chorus of their best-known song, "Who the [expletive] Is Alice?" did not immediately appear suited to the respectful commemoration of Georgia's patron saint.

But it was hard to be genuinely surprised after a day of surreal juxtapositions of pop and politics in Tbilisi. Earlier, the slickly choreographed congress of Saakashvili's United National Movement party had been broadcast live on television from Tbilisi's cavernous Sports Palace. The camera panned across packed rows of thousands of his supporters, lingering on the smiling faces of famous Georgian actors and musicians.

Between the speeches, there were musical interludes, giving the whole event a kind of cabaret vibe. First a group of singers picked their way through a tune with the refrain, "Georgia will win!" Then a local rock star, who's also a Saakashvili favorite, took to the stage to read some verse about unity and togetherness, which is what the Georgian leader's party says this country needs right now. He followed it with a reggae-tinged song on the same theme, which sounded like it had the potential to become Saakashvili's campaign anthem as he battles for re-election in January.

Finally, just before Saakashvili delivered his keynote speech, a chorus line of Georgian cultural luminaries offered a rendition of a hit tune about Abkhazia. The video for the song shows happy Georgians making their way to the breakaway region, presumably after the government has righteously but peacefully liberated it from the unruly Abkhaz separatists.

As the winsome melody lilted onwards, people around the arena waved Georgian flags and held aloft lighted candles. Was there, perhaps, a subliminal message in all this? "Only we, the United National Movement, can bring this shattered country together," it seemed to urge: "Sing along with us, brothers and sisters, and Georgia will be whole again."

Matthew Collin is a journalist in Tbilisi.